Panther Habitat Threatened by Out-Of-Control Development

Conservationists File Suit to Protect Endangered Florida Panther

(05/09/2000) - Defenders of Wildlife and several other conservation organizations today sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Federal Highway Administration for failure to protect the critically imperiled Florida panther. National Wildlife Federation, Florida Wildlife Federation, Sierra Club, Collier County Audubon Society and Defenders of Wildlife filed the lawsuit in U.S. District court in Washington, D.C.

Today’s lawsuit charges that the federal agencies have negligently allowed permitting and planning to infringe upon essential panther habitat. Twenty-six specific projects in vital priority and other key panther habitat areas are singled out in the suit.

"These federal agencies have continually failed to consider the Florida panther in their actions and in their planning," said Rodger Schlickeisen, president of Defenders of Wildlife. "The government’s actions are setting a dangerous precedent which, in this case, may allow the elimination of the only known panther population in the eastern United States in favor of irresponsible development."

Out-of-control development in southwestern Florida is impacting lands deemed essential to the panther, the groups charged. By promoting growth on these lands instead of on already- settled lands, Defenders contends that the government is promulgating extensive loss to panther habitat. Along with panther isolation and inbreeding, this has caused the panther population to shrink at an alarming rate. FWS itself has predicted that the Florida panther will "probably become extinct within two to four decades" and that "a catastrophic event could accelerate extinction significantly."

"This magnificent and rare cat needs our help," said Schlickeisen. "The population is teetering on the brink of extinction, and there are other places that can meet the needs of developers. The survival of the panther and responsible development do not have to be mutually exclusive."

Now one of the world’s rarest mammals, the Florida panther historically roamed parts of Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee and South Carolina as well as Florida. Surviving panthers are now found only in southern Florida. The remaining animals are in Charlotte, Collier, Hendry, Lee and Glades counties, the Fakahatchee Strand area, Big Cypress National Preserve and Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge and on adjacent private lands. The panther has been listed as endangered since 1973.

"Our immediate goal is the survival of the Florida panther," said Laurie MacDonald, Florida representative for Defenders of Wildlife. "Our long-range goal is to recover the panther population and to make those responsible for development in south Florida stop and consider all the implications of their actions before they destroy what little is left of the undisturbed areas in the region."

Male panthers can measure as much as seven feet from nose to tail. They can weigh more than 100 pounds. Adults have light tawny fur, a pale grey underbelly and longer, more slender tails and legs than other mountain lions. Panther kittens are spotted for the first year, helping to camouflage them against predators. Females give birth to one to four kittens. Panthers hunt wild hogs, deer and raccoons. Their favorite environment is hardwood hammocks and pine flatwood forests.

Defenders’ panther advocacy is part of a wider strategy of identifying and protecting important areas for conservation at the state level. By promoting economic incentives for responsible landowners, urging expansion of public lands and fighting misguided road projects, Defenders is working for protection of all important habitats in Florida. By protecting the habitat of wide-ranging animals such as the panther and Florida black bear, Defenders hopes to preserve species despite continuing economic development.

Defenders of Wildlife, founded in 1947, is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to the protection and restoration of native wild animals and plants in their natural communities.



Cat Lazaroff, (202) 772-3270